The first study -- conducted by the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute -- showing that the community of bacteria found on the bodies of healthy dairy farmers is more diverse than non-farmers has been published in the journal PLoS ONE. This microbial diversity is believed to protect farmers against allergic and autoimmune diseases.
The study was conducted in central Wisconsin. Samples were collected from the noses and mouths of the research participants, which included 21 dairy farmers and 18 non-farmers working office-based jobs.
The nasal microbiota of dairy farmers had 2.15-fold more organisms than the nasal samples of non-farmers. Similarly, oral samples from the dairy farmer group harbored 1.5-fold more organisms, according to lead author Dr. Sanjay Shukla. Additionally, the farmer group had a lower relative abundance of Staphylococcus spp., some of which are known opportunistic pathogens.
A microbe is a general term used to describe many different life forms, including bacteria, fungi and viruses. Before birth, people have no microbes, but within a few years, people are covered in thousands of different species of microbes. Each person's microbes may vary with gender, diet, climate, age, occupation and hygiene.
“We still do not know much about the microbial occupational exposure of farmers, and this study provides some basic understanding of dairy farmers’ microbiome,” Shukla said. “We need to do functional studies on repeated sampling on a larger cohort to understand the microbiome’s contribution to farmer’s overall health and disease.”
This study is providing a foundation for research into the farm-as-medicine concept, which examines both environmental risks and the health-building aspects of farm life.
“This is a significant collaboration between the National Farm Medicine Center and the Center for Human Genetics,” project co-investigator Dr. Casper “Cap” Bendixsen noted. “It explores the boundaries of what we consider ‘farm health,’ giving us a more complex, truer picture of how farm environments can be both hazardous and health-promoting.”
Future studies will be performed to analyze the relationships among the nasal and oral microbiomes of dairy farmers and non-dairy farmers with respect to the number and type of adverse health outcomes. Assuming that enhanced microbial diversity is an indicator of overall good health, dairy farmers should have better health outcomes than non-dairy farmers and other professions, depending upon individual genetics and lifestyle choices.
Funding for the study was provided by the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute and by donations made to the institute.